Letters From Poland
(Letters from Poland is a three-part series — an interesting subject that I have just discovered. It is the stories of three separate authors who have focused on three different windows of Polish history through the art of Philately. Stanley Kronenberg recounts the Warsaw to Tokyo airmail run, Winston Gruszczyk discusses the aspects of concentration camp mail, and Dr. Jan Danielski researches the Polish soldiers interred in Hungary during the Second World War. Hope you enjoy all three!!!)
PART 1: THE WARSAW – TOKYO RUN
In the mid-1920s, when many countries were showing interest in aviation and when long-distance first flights were being undertaken throughout the industrialized world the commander of the Polish Air Force, Colonel Rayski, planned a flight from Warsaw, Poland, to Tokyo, Japan.
To pilot the flight, he chose Lt. Boleslaw Orlinski, the acrobatics instructor of the Polish Air Force Flying School at Grudziadz. To accompany Orlinski and to serve as mechanic during the flight, Sgt. Leonard Kubiak was selected.
The aviators took off from Warsaw on the rainy morning of August 27, 1926, cheered on by a delegation that included representatives of the Japanese government.
The men were piloting a Breguet XIX two-seater, open-cockpit biplane powered by a Lorraine-Dietrich three-bank, twelve-cylinder “W,” 450-horsepower engine. The plane’s cruising speed was 145 kilometers an hour, and its instrument panel consisted of an altimeter, a tachometer, an air speed indicator, a banking indicator, and a compass. It was equipped with extra fuel tanks, including one installed beneath the pilot’s seat.
Orlinski and Kubiak flew during the day, at an average altitude of 1000 meters, and landed each night. Their route included stops at Moscow, Kazan, Omsk, Krasnojarsk, Chita, Harbin, Mukden, and Seoul.
On September 5, 1926, the Breguet and its two-man crew arrived in Tokyo, where Orlinski and Kubiak were the news of the day. Numerous parties and celebrations honored the distinguished aviators, and the men received word by telegraph that their achievement had earned them promotions — Orlinski to captain and Kubiak to staff sergeant.
According to the original plan, the aviators were to return to Warsaw by surface transportation, but Orlinski preferred to fly back instead. He telegraphed his superiors in Poland, obtained permission for the return flight, and, on September 11, 1926, he and Kubiak took off before sunrise, heading for home.
Leaving the Tokorozawa airport near Tokyo, the aviators soon encountered a severe storm. Eleven anxious hours later, they finally landed safely in Osaka, some 500 kilometers southwest of Tokyo. They resumed their journey the following morning, but met with another storm that blew their little plane so far off course that they were beyond the range of the flight maps on board. The only thing that saved the men from drowning in the Sea of Japan was a map Kubiak had torn out of a magazine during their stay in Tokyo.
The misadventures of the return flight didn’t end there. After the Breguet left Seoul, an oil line broke and the plane was forced down in Chinese territory, close to the Manchurian border. When the oil pressure failed again 180 kilometers farther west, at Byrka in Siberia, oil had to be brought from 280 kilometers away by railway handcar.
While the plane was grounded at Byrka, a severe storm blew up, tossing the plane about and damaging both the tip of the left bottom wing and the wooden propeller. With the help of a Russian mechanic, Orlinski and Kubiak simply sawed off the damaged wingtip — then, for balance, they sawed a corresponding piece off the opposite wing! The propeller was repaired with wood glue and reinforced with bailing wire.
After many more problems with the oil pressure, and overnight stops at Chita, Irkutsk, Krasnojarsk, Omsk, Kazan, and Moscow, the aviators and their battered Breguet arrived in Warsaw on September 25, 1926, having completed a 12,390-mile round trip.
Philatelists were eager to obtain souvenirs from the Warsaw-Tokyo flight, and to this end submitted letters to be flown to Japan to the LOPP (Liga Obrony Powietrznej Panstwa), the Polish National Air Defense League.
Because it originally was planned as a Paris-Warsaw-Tokyo flight, the submitted letters, received, in addition to Warsaw cancellations, the oval postmark “Raid Polonais. Raid Polski * Paris-Warszawa-Tokyo * Mai 1926” imprinted in red-violet ink.
On May 22, 1926, special 5-zloty stamps were issued by the LOPP for the very high additional payment required for letters to be flown to Japan. The 5-zloty stamps were printed in dark green on white paper in sheets of twenty, 5 x 4, line-perforated 10. On each sheet, one stamp was printed upside down and a total of 1000 stamps was printed. These stamps were affixed to previously submitted and postmarked letters and were cancelled with the same oval postmark.
All of this planning came to naught when Orlinski simply refused to fly the heavy load of mail. Nevertheless, to avoid disappointing the philatelists, all of the letters submitted were sent secretly to Japan in two parcels that traveled overland via the Trans-Siberian Railroad, then on to Tokyo by ship. There they were held, awaiting Orlinski’s arrival. On that historic day, one of the two parcels was opened, and the letters were postmarked in violet ink with the western-style date cancellation, “TOKYO-Japan, 5. 9. 26”. Although he had refused to fly the philatelic mail, Orlinski did carry some letters with him in his map case.
On the day he arrived in Tokyo, Orlinski handed these covers to Col. Waclaw Jedrzejewicz, the Polish military attache at the Polish Embassy there. Colonel Jedrze-jewicz added these covers to the second parcel of mail that had not yet been back-stamped, and they were forgotten until after Orlinski’s departure on the return flight to Warsaw.
On September 27, 1926, (two days after Orlinski and Kubiak successfully completed their return flight to Warsaw) these covers were found and back-stamped with the Tokyo European-style dated postmark in black ink. Then all of the Warsaw-Tokyo mail–that from the two surface mail parcels, as well as that actually flown by Orlinski — was shipped back to Warsaw in a single parcel.
Before leaving Japan, Orlinski bought several picture post cards, he then signed some of them, affixed 6-sen Japanese stamps, and had them cancelled. The postmark bears the Japanese date, “15. 9. 10,” or September 10, 1926. (The year of the rule of the Emperor Taisho plus 1911 equals the Western year.) A Japanese typist addressed these cards to “Poland, Warsaw, Liga Obrony, Powie-trznej, Panstwa,” misspelling Polish words that Orlinski later corrected by pen.
These cards were flown from Tokyo to Warsaw in Orlinski’s map case. There they received the violet arrival postmark of the Warsaw airport with the date: “25 September 1926.”
In 1953, Orlinski, a veteran of World War II, emigrated to Toronto, Canada. In 1926, he described his adventures during the Warsaw-Tokyo-Warsaw flight in Do Krainy Wschodzacego Slonca (To the Land of the Rising Sun). The book was reprinted in 1978 in Polish, by Glos Polski, Toronto, Canada.
. . . . SEE YOU SOON, GOD BE WILLING . . .